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Catching Up With Rest Of State, Berkshire DA Launches Domestic Violence High Risk Team

A woman in a mask stands at a podium with microphones in front of her with a row of politicians around her.
Josh Landes
Cathy Felix shared the story of her daughter's murder at the press conference in The Common in downtown Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

The Berkshire County District Attorney’s Office launched a new Domestic Violence High Risk Team Thursday. A warning to listeners – this story contains a disturbing description of domestic violence. DA Andrea Harrington announced her office’s newest undertaking at a press conference in a pavilion at The Common in downtown Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

“This new team is a collaboration to improve responses to domestic violence and to protect people from violent crime," said Harrington. "It’s a multidisciplinary team. We identify cases that are at high risk of lethality and we collectively implement individualized intervention plans.”

Partner agencies will include the Department of Children and Families, Community Corrections, the Massachusetts Parole Board, the Department of Probation Victim Services, the Elizabeth Freeman Center, the courts and state and local law enforcement.

“We are the last county in the Commonwealth to have a high risk team," said the DA. "It’s incredibly satisfying for me, because this was a campaign promise that I made. And it is a demonstration that elections to matter. Here in Berkshire County, with the support of our law enforcement partners and our community partners and our Lieutenant Governor, we are using our power to dismantle a culture of violence against women and girls.”

“While we talk about a safer at home advisory in the terms of COVID, in the terms of domestic violence, there are individuals in our communities that don’t feel safer at home," said Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, who made her first appearance in Pittsfield since March to show support for the new project. “If you’re one of these individuals that has an abuser or has a situation at home that is unsafe, that is extremely challenging – above and beyond the challenges of dealing with a pandemic.”

“Here in the Berkshires, we have a problem," said Janis Broderick, the executive director of the Elizabeth Freeman Center, Berkshire County’s 24/7 resource for people experiencing domestic abuse and sexual assault. “Fiscal year ‘20 reports show that our rate of protection order filings is 57% higher than the state average by population. FBI statistics show that every year between one and four Berkshire communities are in the top ten for those reported rapes by population out of approximately 280 Massachusetts communities reporting. We have had 11 murders in five years spanning the county from up north in Clarksburg to down south in Sheffield.”

Cathy Felix shared the story of her daughter Julie, who was murdered by her husband in 2008 in North Adams.

“They were sitting on the couch in the living room and the argument escalated quickly," said Felix. "He strangled Julie. He smothered her with a pillow. And then he went to the kitchen and got a knife. In all intent, he was going to slit her throat. He didn’t. And I truly believe the only reason that he didn’t was because their 3-year-old, Carly, was standing there and she was watching everything.”

Julie never regained consciousness, and died eight days later at Berkshire Medical Center.

“12 years later, Carly still has that memory of sitting on the couch next to her mom, trying to wake her up," said Felix. "Julie wouldn’t wake up. And she said she was scared and she was crying.”

Eugene Shade II pleaded guilty to the murder in 2011, and was sentenced to life in prison.

“Sadly, in less than three years, he will go up for parole and probably be out," said Felix. "My two girls – Julie’s two girls – are already worried about that day. They’ve already had concerns. And they’re young teenagers, they shouldn’t have to worry about things like that.”

The press conference was also attended by Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer and North Adams Mayor Tom Bernard, as well as members of the county’s legislative delegation and law enforcement agencies.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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